The Captive Heart- Matthew 5:38-39, 1 Peter 2:24, Colossians 3:13

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

COMMENTARY

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Yesterday we discussed that the only form of justice our fallen world can provide is “an eye for an eye.” It is fair, but also harsh, and it is destined to worsen the whole human experience over time.
Jesus, of course, recommended a different way. By taking the insult, having the right to lash back in kind, but yet not doing so, the cycle of harm comes to an end. For the first time it becomes possible for the human situation to actually become better instead of worse. It’s an exciting prospect, but who has the strength to do it? How do we find the power to let go of vengeance, when our mortal frame cries for it?

Who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we should live unto righteousness
Our heart cries for justice. There is an eternal force that sees offense and demands retribution, and that force resonates through us all. It is one of the laws of this world, and it cannot be denied, the compensation of an eye for an eye must be answered. What we need to recognize, though, is that it already has been.
When my fellow brother or sister has offended me, the offense that I would do to make things even has already been endured by Christ. He stands in for them, having that right as their spiritual father, and takes the pain until things have been made equal to what I endured. And because that balance has been made, I no longer need to hurt my brother or my sister. I can forgive them instead.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
And what is more, I am not only able to forgive them, I am compelled to! For I have also been forgiven by Christ, and not because of any merit of my own. I have been forgiven undeservedly, thus creating an imbalance, which that same eternal force of justice now compels must be matched by another act of undeserved forgiveness. Because I have been forgiven freely, I feel that I must forgive another freely.
And just like that, the self-destructive cycle of the world applies to us no more. It is not that it has been broken, it is that it has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).

The Captive Heart- John 15:19-20, Exodus 21:24

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot

COMMENTARY

But because ye are not of the world, the world hateth you
In our lives, others will hurt us. Indeed, we experience this unpleasant heartbreak when we are still very small. Our parents are harsh with us and our peers make fun of us. Those we depend on for support and love while still so vulnerable betray us instead.
When we get older the circle of criticism goes out further. When we are children our view is limited to immediate family and friends, but when we grow older we become aware of the greater world. And there we discover that there are those who call us evil and wish we were eradicated. It frankly doesn’t matter which ideology or belief we subscribe to, there is always someone who sees our way of life as the source of all the world’s problems.
We feel the truth of Jesus’s words: that we are not a part of this world, and because of that the world hates us. This experience is true for all of us, for all of us are foreigners to this Earth. We don’t belong, and we distinctly feel the friction of that.

Eye for eye
And, of course, the natural reaction to being hurt by that friction is to hurt back again. An eye-for-an-eye is the rule of this world, it is simply the best form of balance and justice that the mortal realm can provide.
It is a hard law. Each of us will transgress it at some point, because we are imperfect. Each of us will unquestionably wound another, and then balance will demand that we must be wounded, too. Thus we must all be hurt, but should we just try to be hurt as equally as possible? This would mean each new invention of cruelty must eventually be permeated through the whole. The entire world situation could only become more miserable. In a way it is fair…but what a horrible fate for us all.
Can anyone question that somehow we need to be saved from this mortal condemnation?

The Captive Heart- Romans 5:12, 15; Revelation 21:4

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men
Previously we discussed how each of us have come to recognize that our world is harsh and unfair. The way of this earth is that we come to misfortune, even when it is not our fault, even when it is no one’s fault. We don’t have to succumb to sin or be abused by others to already know sorrow. It comes and finds us where we are, and no amount of doing good will prevent it.

For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
Yet in all this there yet remains grace. For though we suffer undeserved sorrows, through Jesus we also receive undeserved joy. Today we are given rewards that we do not have the merit for, and in the next life all the agonies of this life, even the ones we did deserve, will be purged away by God, Himself. And then dismay will be counterbalanced with joy until the scales have been made right and order restored. But even then the blessings will still continue, tipping forever further into the good.

The Captive Heart- Matthew 26:73-74, 1 Samuel 8:4-5, 7

And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

COMMENTARY

Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man
Yesterday we examined how Saul and Aaron succumbed to their fear of the people, and did something that went contrary to their conscience because of it. Today we have another example, that of Peter denying the Christ.
What I find particularly interesting in Peter’s situation is the exact pattern of his failure. It is his speech that brings him into disharmony with the masses around him, his manner of words shows that he is a Galilean, and an associate of Jesus. So what does he do? He changes his speech. He curses and swears and denies. He will conform his words however he needs to to disassociate himself from the truth. Our social fears lead us to conform, even to our own condemnation.

Make us a king to judge us like all the nations
And the Lord said unto Samuel, they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them

As the Lord spelled out to Samuel, the choice to conform to the masses, contrary to our own conscience, is us rejecting Him. It is as simple as that, and I think the aching of our hearts shows that we already know this to be true. The excuse “they made me do it,” just never tastes right in the mouth.
Even so, we do need to understand the reality that each of us will be afraid at times, we will conform to those around us, and we will reject God in so doing. It isn’t a good thing, but it is a reality that has to be acknowledged. It is simply part of the package of mortality. Given that fact, it becomes clear that we need a Savior to rescue us from the masses.

Personal Commitment: Month 2

June’s Review)

For June I continued regulating my use of media, and also started a practice of checking in with myself every couple hours, and giving my soul what it needed to remain grounded and connected.

For the first of those goals, I do feel that my media remains in a better balance, though there still comes the occasional indulgence from time-to-time. A pattern that I have recognized in those indulgences is that I am always trying to distract myself with something that is one level less pleasant than what I should be doing. So, for example, if I know that the house needs cleaning, I will try to justify consuming media instead. Whereas if I know I should be getting to task on a difficult patch of work, then suddenly cleaning the house seems very appealing!

In other words, there is a force pushing against responsibility, trying to get me one step lower on the ladder wherever it can. And sometimes I have been able to fight that force, and sometimes I have given in.

The same is true for my two-hour spiritual check-ins. I have not attempted to abandon them altogether, but I do try to “forget” to set the next reminder on my phone, or justify that what my soul really needs right now is to unwind with media…every single time.

The temptation for each of my commitments is to compromise it down just one level. And then one more.

July’s Commitment)

So how do I wish to address this in July? Part of me says: “Life is meant to be spent pushing upstream. Gravity is always there, you just have to stand against its pull forever.” Another part says “Doing right things shouldn’t feel forced. You need to figure out how to get things sorted out in your heart, and then the desire for self-improvement will just flow.”

I think there is some truth to both voices. Life does take grit and determination, but also a paradigm shift can make that which was painful become pleasant.

Something I have noticed is hinge points where suddenly the desire to do good accelerates. Sometimes they come at random, such as when I happen to wake up on the right side of bed, and sometimes they feel deliberate, such as when I make a conscious decision to follow my conscience.

I will always hope and pray for the random moments of spiritual vitality, times where grace lifts me to places I cannot take credit for. But at the same time I can also strive more to be true to my conscience, thus opening the door for God’s light to enter my soul.

Which brings up a question: why do I ever not follow my conscience. And the answer is because I am afraid. I am afraid that if I stop doing the thing that feels important to me, and instead focus on what my conscience directs, that I will miss out on something, or leave something undone, or feel unfulfilled in some way.

My commitment for July, then, is to take a leap of faith. I lack trust that if I just follow my conscience, that things will work out. So let’s focus on that. I’m still keeping my other two commitments to regulate media use and regularly check-in with my soul, but now whenever I feel like giving up ground on those commitments, I am going to ask myself what I am afraid of, and ask myself to exercise a little faith and trust instead.

Thank you.

The Captive Heart- Question

The end of my last study was very impactful to me. It brought up the point of how we so often choose the very things that hurt us the most, and how God must intervene to save us from our own selves.

But to be sure, each of us are also victims to the onslaughts of others. Indeed most of our own acts of self-harm have their roots in the way others cut our confidence out from under us. We were made to question our worth, and that wasn’t right. So God must also intervene to save us from others.

Yet is it any wonder that others have learned to be cruel, given how harsh and uncompromising this world can be? Sometimes it is neither ourselves nor another that causes offense, it is the misfortune of nature, of chance, of having a physical body and a frail mind, of being subject to disease, deterioration, and death. So God must also intervene to save us from the mortal world.

And He does so. With this study I would like to examine how we are assaulted, and how we find reclamation in the gospel. In the meantime I would invite you to consider in what ways you have been hurt by yourself, by others, and by the world? How are you hurting right at this moment? In what ways is God trying to rescue you? Are there ways in which you are blocking Him? What are the reasons why?

Who Am I?- Summary

This study felt like it had two distinct halves. The first was captured in the title: Who am I? The other was: And what does that have to do with God? An unanticipated follow-up question that came up for me was: Does being God’s creation compromise by individuality?
One dynamic from my life is that I am the fourth of nine children. And many times I really felt just like that: the fourth of nine. I wasn’t sure what my personal identity was, separate from the mass. As a result, my pattern for life has not been to choose an identity for myself, but to let identities choose me. And that has led to some unfortunate results.
It is not unusual to yearn to understand oneself better, I would say it is a fundamental need that we all feel. After concluding this study, I am convinced that that need cannot be satisfied without God. Let’s examine why.

We Want There to Be an Us

There is inherent in each of us a desire to be a real person. That might seem a strange thing to say, obviously we’re all real people, aren’t we? But yet we all have experiences where we feel that we are non-persons. We feel overlooked, or lumped in as just part of a larger conglomerate, or not worth personal consideration. In times like these we receive a message that we might occupy a space, but we are not a seen, validated identity.
Being a person is essential to being a person. We cannot abide the contradiction of feeling that we aren’t what we obviously are. We feel hurt when a sense of non-personness arises in us because it is contrary to our very nature. Just as the pain in our hand teaches that touching the hot stove is wrong, the pain in our heart teaches that accepting the role of “nobody” is wrong as well.
And this is healthy and natural. When we were formed, we were designed to have this need for the self. It is neither a mistake nor a selfishness to demand that we are full individuals, that we are distinct and totally real persons, that we are our very own soul. This sense exists in us because He is a very real person, and He made us in His image.
Genesis 1:27- So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Luke 4:13- And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.

We Get Lost Looking For Us

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all: no one is so lost as when searching for themself. Unfortunately we most often respond to those moments of doubting ourselves by trying to build up artificial identities instead. We try to win the attention of those that overlooked us, which most often leads to either radical conformity or radical defiance. Whether they see us because they love us or see us because they hate us, we intend to make them see us.
Of course playing for the attention of the very ones who ignored us is a losing game. The fact that we try to prove our somethingness instead proves how deeply we feel our sense of nothingness. The more we try to pour into these facades, the less real us we have to work with.
In the end the only point we prove is our sense of having no worth. We would rather be something bad than to not be anything at all. But the lie is in believing that those are our only two options.
Luke 15:18-19- Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
Exodus 3:11- And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

God Rescues Us From Ourselves

But because we have claimed these identities as our own, we often find it difficult when we hear that God refutes them. To be sure, the statement that “God loves me just the way that I am” is 100% true. But that doesn’t mean He wants me to stay just the way that I am. He isn’t that cruel.
God does not come to save me because He despised who I was. He comes because I despised myself, and He wants to prove to me that I am still worthy of love. I hated myself, and He came to help me see that what I thought was myself was not myself. What I hated was but a shroud, while my actual self has been preserved just the way it should be.
He invites me to let go of the artificial identities that gave me no pleasure. He says that it is time to stop letting these identities choose me, to let Him choose for me instead. He tells me that in His family I am neither four of nine, nor one of billions. I am just me. The only one of me that He has. And He proceeds to teach me to myself.
It goes against the grain to admit it, but there is no real me without God. It takes humility to say that I do not define myself, that He does. It hurts my pride to confess my nothingness. But as I do, I finally find my somethingness.
John 15:16- Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.
Luke 15:24- For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.

Genesis 17:5- Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham.

Who Am I?- Luke 15:11-13, 17-22, 24

A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he came to himself, he said, I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

COMMENTARY

Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me
The son took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son
Previously we considered how the disciples had already carved out identities for themselves before Jesus gave them a new role to fill. In the parable of the Prodigal Son we meet another who tried to carve out an identity for himself, this time to devastating results.
For the Prodigal Son was born with an initial identity, but he rejected it in favor of his inheritance. He did not care to be his father’s son, he would rather be a spender and an enjoyer. But he found that we was unable to sustain that role, and when it was gone he was left to instead play the part of hungry and ashamed.
After suffering for a time, he had a glimmer of hope, and chose yet another identity for himself: not a son to his father, but a servant. Thus he went from a son to a rioter to a starver to a servant.

But the father said, this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found
And this is why God disrupts us in our lives and gives us identities that we did not ask for. Because the ones that we give to ourselves aren’t very good!
We might assume that when we are left to our own devices we will give ourselves the identity of hard-worker, or accomplished man, or beautiful woman, or great friend. But when left to our own devices that is never how things actually play out. Instead we end up putting ourselves in the roles of sinner, ashamed soul, and self-doubter. When we try to define ourselves, we define ourselves as bad.
But when we go to our Father, He meets us on the road, takes away the toxic role that we have chosen, and gives us the identity of Son or Daughter instead.

Who Am I?- Exodus 3:10-11

Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

COMMENTARY

And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
When God extended His calling to Moses, Moses showed surprise. “Who am I, that I should go?” he asked, believing that he wasn’t the right person for the job. His doubt is understandable, because who Moses was at that time was not the person that God was calling him to be. But then, who exactly Moses was had been a very fluid concept his whole life long.
Moses had been born a Hebrew slave. But that was not who he was meant to be. He was liberated from that position and instead given the role of an Egyptian prince. But that was not who he was meant to be either. Moses rejected the identity he had been given, and finally chose one for himself, that of a shepherd in the desert.
But that was not who he was meant to be either. In the end, Moses’s identity was not to be defined by the situation of his birth, or the titles others tried to put on him, or by the vocation he, himself had chosen. In the end, his identity was to be the one that God alone gave to him.

Who Am I?- Genesis 1:27, Matthew 23:9, John 15:15, John 13:14, Mark 10:45

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

COMMENTARY

So God created man in his own image
For one is your Father, which is in heaven
But I have called you friends

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister
Tied up with the question of who we are is the question of our relationship to divinity. For if God created us, and Christ re-creates us, then who we are depends upon the interaction that we have with them.
I have heard it argued that many Christians come into trouble by trying to have the “wrong” relationship with God or Jesus. But I have heard that same argument being argued in both directions.

  • This generation wants to be all buddy-buddy with Jesus, and have forgotten He is their master.
  • The real problem is that you’re so concerned with fearing God, that you don’t have any more space for Him to love you!
  • You need to respect Christ, not be coddled by Him.
  • God’s grace is more abundant than most of us are comfortable accepting. He wants to save us, and we just need to let that in.

So which voice is correct? Who is God to us? Is He our creator or our father? Should we fear Him or worship Him? And who is Christ? A brother or a friend? A master or a servant?
Well, if the verses that I’ve shared above are any indication…all of the above. Divinity represents the most transcendent and complex beings in the universe. Would not our relationship with them have to be complex and multi-faceted as well?
The simple truth is that if we can only be friends with God, but never respect Him as our Lord, then our discipleship will suffer for it….And vice versa. And if we can only serve Christ, but never be served by Him, we’ll never reach that relationship’s full potential either….And vice versa.
But that’s where many of us are: only comfortable with a partial connection to divinity. I was always ready to serve a Lord and Master, but struggled to accept the love of a kindly friend. The solution was not for me to try to fence off those difficult parts of God, though, that would have handicapped me for the rest of my life. The only way to progress was to start opening myself to receiving all that my God, my Father, my Savior, my brother, my master, my minister, my friend, and my advocate have to offer.